Cambodia is full of surprises! Right from the untouched natural beauty the country has to offer to the friendly people and the delicious food and the fun nightlife, the country is definitely worth a visit. Here are 5 of the top places to visit in Cambodia along with reasons on why they are absolutely unmissable.
Siem Reap for Sunrise at Angkor Wat
Half of the people who visit Cambodia, do it to visit the famous temples of Angkor Wat. This makes Siem Reap one of the top places to visit in Cambodia.
Angkor Wat is complex of Hindu temples that are located in Siem Reap. It is the largest religious monument in the world. And the most magical experience at this archaeological site has to be witnessing sunrise over the iconic monument.
While many people choose to visit the monument for sunset, it is no where as magical as sunrise. During my visit to the country, I visited Angkor Wat both at sunset as well as sunrise. And you can have my word, that sunset is nowhere as magical as sunrise at the complex. This is mainly because the sun rises right behind the complex and for about 30 minutes before sunrise, the sky is constantly changing colors from yellow to orange to red. It is an incredible experience.
Best way to visit? Join the Sunrise tour for Angkor Wat. These can be booked from any local tour agency in the city or through your hotel/hostel or even online. The Sunset tour of Angkor Wat includes a half day guided visit of the complex starting from 4:30 am until about 13:30 pm. Free water is also provided by the tour company. The price ranges from 11-15 $ depending on the size of the tour group.
They first take you to the ticket office which is located a few minutes away from the entrance to the complex and then the guide shows you the top 4-5 temples in the complex. You can always choose to see more on your own by purchasing a 3 or 7 day pass instead of the usual 1 day pass for the complex.
Read more on how to spend your time in Angkor Wat here.
Kampot for Firefly Spotting
If you’re looking for a smaller town to relax and unwind in, Kampot is the perfect place for you. This Cambodian city is right at the bank of the river Praek Tuek Chhu with untouched nature on both sides. It is also the ideal spot for firefly sighting in the country making it one of the top places to visit in Cambodia.
The best way to do it? Book a sunset and firefly cruise on the river. These can be booked from any tour agency in the city and even through your hotel or hostel. The standard price for the tour is usually 5$ for the entire experience including one free drink on board.
The tour usually starts from the old bridge in Kampot. Here you will find different boat companies waiting to pick up clients to start the tour. Make sure you find the right boat company that you have booked. Most of them will stall waiting for clients. So make sure you keep checking with them on when they will be leaving. Because if not, you may end up missing sunset all together. Also make sure to ask for your free drink as sometimes they might miss serving you.
The tour starts by cruising up the river where you will see the sunset behind the mountain. The setting with beautiful nature on either side make the experience absolutely magical. Once it gets dark, the cruise is stopped by the side of the river for the firefly spotting. All lights are turned off and silence is encouraged during this time.
The best time for firefly spotting is usually after the hot season basically after the months of March and April. That is when they can be seen in large numbers lighting up the trees like Christmas lights. But even during the hot season, you can spot a few, depending on the weather conditions on the day.
Koh Rong to Swim with Plankton
Plankton are the group of organisms that live in large bodies of water and are unable to swim against the current. Among them is a unique kind called the Biolumiescent Phytoplankton that produce a glow due to chemical reactions. They shine in the sea like the stars in the sky, now doesn’t that sound magical?
And on the islands of Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem you can actually swim with this unique kind of Plankton. This makes swimming in the dark sea waters a magical experience and makes Koh Rong one of the top places to visit in Cambodia.
Swimming with Pankton was one thing I was absolutely excited about and it did live up to the hype. While I was initially disappointed that they cannot be seen just floating around as depicted in the pictures, snorkeling in the middle of the sea in the pitch dark night and seeing them light up all around was surely one of the most insane experiences I had in Cambodia.
The best way to experience this is by booking a tour with the local agencies on the islands or booking online. The standard price for the tour on Koh Rong is 5$ and on Koh Rong Sanloem is 12$. The price for the tours include the boat ride to and from the dark spots where the Plankton can be spotted, snorkeling gear and a life jacket.
Phnom Penh to Pay Respect at the Museum of Genocide
Phnom Penh is the capital of Cambodia and one of the most developed cities in the country which makes it one of the top places to visit in Cambodia. It will surely make it on to your Cambodia Itinerary. The city is home to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the killing fields which give you deep insights about the country’s history. So if you do plan to visit the city during your trip to Cambodia, make sure to visit the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.
The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum bears witness to the horrific and dark history of the country. The museum also serves as a memorial to the people of Cambodia who lost family members to the terrible fascist Khmer Rouge regime.
The building which is now a museum and memorial today, was formerly a secondary school. It was taken over and converted into security prison 21 by the Khmer Rouge regime. The entrance fees of the museum is only 3$ with an additional charge of 5$ for the audio guide.
My visit to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum left me in tears and with a new found respect to the local Cambodians. Many lost loved ones during this terrifying regime and still have such a cheerful and pleasant attitude towards life. This museum is definitely worth a visit if you would like more insights into the history of the country. It also helps gain better understanding of what the people went through during the Khmer Rouge regime between 1975 to 1979.
Siem Reap for the Sunset tour at White Rabbit Hostel
Now this has to be one of the most fun and unique tours I signed up for during my visit to the beautiful country. This one is organised and run by White Rabbit Hostel, mainly for in-house guests and there is loads of drinking involved.
The sunset tour starts at about 4-4:30 pm from the hostel. You along with the others who have signed up for the tour are picked up by a trailer tuk-tuk. The maximum size of the group is about 20 as the trailer can hold no more than 22 people. The representatives from the hostel also bring along a huge speaker to play music on the tuk-tuk and a ice box filled with drinks for the journey.
The tour takes you through the streets, with the locals staring in fascination and waving at you. The first stop is a lotus farm. The local representative from the hostel shows the group around and makes you try the lotus seed. The next stop is a view point with a great view of the city. After that, the tour proceeds to these rice fields behind the mountain. Here you stop to enjoy the sunset along with more beer and music and the company of amazing fellow backpackers.
Before heading back, the tour representatives make you play a few fun games. You can also try the local specialties of Frog and Snake and occasionally rats too cooked in the traditional way. After this, you head back to the hostel where there is a delicious barbecue dinner awaiting along with more beer and fun drinking games.
The tour costs 20$ which includes everything (even the unlimited alcohol and barbecue dinner) and is a totally worth it.
Hope this inspires you to visit the beautiful country and take back some amazing memories like I did.
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